Illinois Local Files Unfair Labor Practice Over Grooming Policy

Firefighters in Elgin, Illinois have filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city over the fire department’s enforcement of a grooming policy with regard to three union officials who were growing their hair to protest 25 months without a collective bargaining agreement.

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 439 filed the ULP with the Illinois Labor Relations Board last week after President Vince Rychtanek, Vice President Edward Hanson, and Shop Steward Joe Villella were ordered to cut their hair. The trio began letting their hair grow last spring to protest the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. Their last contract expired in January, 2014.

Local 439 and the city have been in arbitration for months. The ULP alleges that the city made unilateral changes to the grooming policy without bargaining with the firefighters.

The Daily Herald quoted Vice President Rychtanek as saying:

  • “We were all ordered to cut our hair. We’re not going to disobey an order.”
  • “Grooming policies, nationwide they are understood to be a mandatory subject of bargaining. Whether it’s firefighters’ hair or cocktail waitresses and what dress they wear, those are subject to mandatory bargaining.”
  • “Ultimately, we want (the city) to sit down and negotiate the contract. It’s not that we want to grow our hair long.”
  • “It’s despicable that firefighters have gone over two years without a contract,” he said. “It’s in arbitration, just like every one of the contracts except one on the 23 years I’ve been on the job. It’s the way the city negotiates — they arbitrate.”

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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